DETROIT — When Johnny Damon comes off the paternity list and starts robbing Prince Fielder of home runs, you might as well call it a night.
That wasn’t the reason the Indians beat the Tigers 9-6 in front of 31,350 at Comerica Park Wednesday night, but it was a perfect indicator of what’s been going on for the Tigers this season.
Another was Brennan Boesch’s error in right field in the first inning on a fly ball off the bat of Carlos Santana that should have ended the inning. Instead, Michael Brantley deposited Max Scherzer’s next pitch over the right field wall and the Indians had a 3-0 lead.
Damon’s thievery came at the start of the second inning, when Fielder led off.
“He’s always been a good athlete,” Alex Avila said of Damon. “He got back there in time and was able to time his jump right. Normally when Prince hits them, they don’t come back. It was definitely surprising. Anytime somebody robs a home run, it’s surprising.”
To their credit, the Tigers never gave up, not when they were down 5-1 in the fourth, not when they were down 8-2 in the fifth — with Damon delivering a pair of RBI as readily as he helped his wife Michelle deliver their second set of twins this past week.
Don Kelly hit a solo home run, Miguel Cabrera hit a solo homer and an RBI double, Quintin Berry had an RBI double, Fielder and Ramon Santiago drove in runs and somehow, it wasn’t enough.
“We didn’t play a bad game tonight,” manager Jim Leyland said. “We had the one miscue, we paid for it. It wasn’t like we played a bad game … we didn’t pitch very well tonight. These are all symptoms of a team that’s struggling.
“When you score six or seven, the other team gets eight or nine. When you score two, the other team gets three. That’s what goes along with when you’re struggling.”
Scherzer, who came into the game on a three-game winning streak, had allowed eight runs in those three wins. On Wednesday he allowed eight, only five of which were earned.
“What happened in the first inning wasn’t the reason why we lost the game,” Scherzer said. “Me not being able to execute pitches in the fifth inning was the reason this game got out of hand. They did a nice job of taking some pitches away and doing damage against me.”
That’s the way the Tigers’ world has turned so far. An error they commit costs them runs, an error by an opponent amounts to nothing. The Tigers get great pitching, then can’t score any runs. The Tigers score some runs, but the pitching doesn’t hold up. A player comes off the DL, another goes on it.
It’s the old one step forward, two steps back problem.
It is a positive that Austin Jackson appears to be close to returning but nobody had better count on him to be the savior.
There is no cavalry coming. The Tigers are either going to pull themselves together and get going or the season will be a lost one.
“We’re at the boiling point where we can either fall out of this thing or get right back in it,” Gerald Laird said before the game.
Laird was on the St. Louis Cardinals last year, a team that looked like it would not make the playoffs, but sneaked in on the last day and won the World Series.
“We went out there and took it one game at a time and trusted one another, that’s the bottom line,” Laird said. “You can’t go up there leading off the inning, trying to hit a four-run home run. It ain’t gonna happen. You gotta take walks, get on base and trust the guy behind you, that he’s going to drive you in, especially with men on second and third. If you don’t get the guy in, you’ve got to trust the guy behind you to drive them in.
“We just gotta trust each other, play as a team and if we have an opportunity to score, we gotta get it done. Leadoff double, we gotta get the guy over and get him in. You gotta play winning baseball, that’s the bottom line.”